BLUES – 49

The Blues netball team beat Loughbourough 2nd for the first time in over four seasons on Wednesday afternoon, with a tremendous victory of 49 – 36. Overjoyed coach Sandra Du Plessis called it the “cherry on the cake” of four years of hard work and that every player attacked from the first second with the “heart of lions”.

With the pressure of two close defeats last season, where the Blues lost by 33-41 and by 37-44, they began slightly unsteadily but very determined. Any doubts about their ability were soon shoved off court, however, as Goal Attack Lerryn Martin converted a excellent interception into the first goal of the game. With seven minutes gone Oxford were leading by two goals, and an accurate attempt by the Loughbourough goal shooter was masterly blocked by Goal Keeper and ex-Captain Alice Kelly. Oxford’s shooters maintained strength and standard at the opposite end of the coart as Goal Shooter Rhian Price offered consistent options around the post which enabled her and Martin to continue to up the tally. In the centre of the court, fresher Emma Lonsdale’s strong leadership and dictation of play meant that feeds and passes were flying at extreme speed and allowed for Oxford to dominate the remainder of the quarter. Loughbourough were unable to make it back on to the scoreboard and with fifteen minutes passed Oxford were leading 14-7.

Determined to show their distinction, Loughborough opened the second quarter with an altered defence structure and an increased pace. Now buoyed by their previous play, the Blues responded well and slowed the game down to a controlled pace and broke their opposition’s first centre.

Wing Attack George Weetch soared in to steal a quick interception which was then put to good use by the shooters in the circle. As Loughbourough increased their defence, the Blues were unable to manoeuvre the ball in their favour as much as they would have liked, and were reigned in by the end of the second quarter. However as the half-time whistle blew, their superiority was still reflected in their 3 goal lead and they were determined to maintain this for a further 30 minutes.

OUNC president Holly Woolven proved her worth as the third quarter began with a courageous tussle for possession between her and the Loughborough wing attack. The tone was thus set for the next quarter; both teams were hungry for victory, and both were going to launch a full-scale attack.

Kelly’s interception in the defending circle sent the ball up to the other end and onto the Oxford score-board, and Venetia Barrett was able to use her height under the post to produce her impressive match debut this season. Captain Zillah Anderson and triple-Blue holder Kelly’s defence was firm and unrelenting, and the Loughbourough shooters were forced to the edge of the circle. As a result, their shots were missed and their rebounds were able to be sent by the Blues back up court. There, the driving force of Weetch, Woolven and Lonsdale combined meant that the shooters were able to convert hard-work into solid goals. Restoring the speed and control of the first quarter, the Blues stormed to another 14-7 victory in the quarter.

With victory in sight, the Blues continued their persistent attack and Kelly and Anderson played sensationally in the circle. High energy, awareness and ability meant that Loughborough goals were blocked and rebounds were seized.

Lonsdale’s power at Centre ensured that these hard-earned balls were delivered through excellent circle feeds into the hands of the shooters. With one minute left and a 13 goal lead, Martin proved the fighting attitude of the whole team by making a superb interception and making the Blues’ victory even more emphatic. The final whistle concluded an incredibly exciting game, well fought by both teams yet with Oxford showing their prowess and willpower.

For an hour they had played as if they knew that they were never going to lose and fully merited their convincing victory of 49-36. In a sport where goals are quick and consistent and where wins can be snatched in a matter of minutes, the Blues focussed for every second of play and made every pass count. Their match last week was cancelled so this encounter with Loughborough was only their second play of the season. The opponents, however, were on their fourth and expecting to defeat the Blues as they were used to. No such luck.

Captain Anderson expressed her great pride in her team, and explained she knew it was “very important that we won this match, as the winner now takes first place in the Division.” She knew that the team could “pull together when it mattered” and looks forward to the rest of the season.